The Current SBC Calvinism Debate: Observations, Clarifications, and Suggestions

March 11, 2014

The Current SBC Calvinism Debate:
Observations, Clarifications, and Suggestions*

by David L. Allen
Dean of the School of Theology
Professor of Preaching
George W. Truett Chair of Ministry at
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

The release of “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s
Plan of Salvation” in the summer of 2012 engendered a Convention-wide discussion and
made nation-wide news. Tongues wagged and fingers pecked computer keyboards ceaselessly in
subsequent weeks. The Traditional Statement (TS) has received both acclaim and criticism. In
reflecting on the tsunami of words, and as a conversation partner along with my fellow brothers
and sisters in Christ, I have asked the Lord to help me be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.
I hope the following thoughts will be helpful as we continue the conversation in the days ahead.
By way of brief personal background, I served in the local church for twenty-six years; twenty-one
of those years as a senior pastor of two churches. I have served two theological institutions
in the classroom since 1985. In addition, I served on the Board of Trustees at one of our SBC
Seminaries for 12 years. In my current role, I preach regularly in Southern Baptist churches.

Two things are crystal clear. The issue of Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention is not
going away, and finding our way forward is not going to be easy. Calvinism is viewed through
many prisms in the SBC. Some see it as absolutely vital to the health and prosperity, both
theological and otherwise, of the SBC. Others view it as theologically flawed, a niggling nuisance
spawning various levels of problems, including divisiveness, in the churches. Regardless of which
camp you are in, or somewhere in the middle, Southern Baptists need to proceed with caution
in the days ahead. When it comes to Calvinism in the SBC, a fair amount of misinformation,
misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and misrepresentation characterizes the current climate.
This makes it difficult for most to cut through the discrepant fog.

The first place to begin, it seems to me, is with our common ground. As Southern Baptists, our
agreements outnumber or disagreements. We agree: 1) on the BFM 2000. 2) on the Lordship of
Christ. 3) on the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture. 4) on the exclusivity of the gospel and the
lostness of humanity. 5) that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, not
to mention a host of other issues on which we agree. Virtually all of us recognize that Southern
Baptists are not going to agree on Calvinism. However, that does not mean that this discussion
should not happen! While the debate about Calvinism is necessary, it is absolutely essential that
all involved desire, speak, and work for unity. There is a difference between union and unity.

Two cats with their tails tied together have union. They sure don’t have unity! Southern Baptists
generally agree that our unifying doctrinal statement is the BFM 2000. It is sufficiently broad
in latitude that we can all live, breathe, and work under its umbrella. In fact, Calvinists and
Traditionalists, for the most part, have been doing that already for quite a number of decades.

Second, because of this common ground in the BFM 2000, we should avoid at all costs the
Scylla of attempting to run all Calvinists out of Dodge and the Charybdis of attempting to
return us as a Convention to the Calvinistic theology of some of our founding fathers. Neither of
these will bring us together. In fact, both approaches will foster division. I have on rare occasion
sought to correct overzealous Traditionalists who have questioned the place of Calvinists in the
SBC. It is any and every Baptist’s right to be persuaded that a Calvinistic Soteriology reflects the
teaching of Scripture. Being a Calvinist should not be a Convention crime. Calvinists have and
should always be free to have a place at the SBC table. Any church that feels led of God to call a
Calvinist pastor should do so without hesitation. I serve a seminary that has some Calvinists on
the faculty, some of whom I myself recommended to the Administration for hiring. I have on
occasion recommended other Calvinist faculty members to other SBC colleges and seminaries.
I have and continue to work side-by-side with Calvinist brothers and sisters in the churches I
pastored, in the seminary I serve, and in the broader Southern Baptist Convention of which I
am a part.

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*SBCToday reprinted with permission this excerpt from the NOBTS Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry.Click HERE to download the FREE, 2-volume NOBTS journal.
Ed.’s note: SBCToday comments are closed until March 16, as the moderator/editor is traveling.